Waving goodbye to the solution
In 41 years of supporting Arsenal I’ve been gutted just a handful of times when certain players left the club. Limpar, Santi, Overmars, Petit, Song, Aliadiere, Bielik, Amaechi and Yunus Musah spring to mind.
Strange list, perhaps.
Henry, Fabregas, Vieira, Sanchez etc… I understood. Their reasoning made sense to me and therefore softened the blow. My list is compiled of players I either loved, that I knew were making bad decisions but mostly players that I felt could’ve been top players but were not given a chance or became too impatient to wait for it.
I get a bad feeling that Arsenal have one and possibly two players that I’m going to have to put on my list.
Like you I’m sure, I see a need for a large handful of better first team players in Arsenal’s current first team. We already have fantastic squad players mixed in with a few elite talents.
What I can’t shake however is that we have a line up at London Colney that we aren’t using, have never used and likely never will. A line up that would at the very least be a version of the modern line up that we are seeking.
It includes more of the younger players and less of the more experienced but aren’t the experienced players yelling ‘drop me, I’m not suited to this league anymore’ anyway? Ideally you want to have a team that runs out at the weekend with a balance of all ages as experience and leadership are very important. What happens though when those players who fall into that category aren’t suited or have partially given up? Considering the younger ones ordinarily take instruction and inspiration from the older players no wonder it’s gone wrong!
So, as much as we’d love for Xhaka, Willian, Ceballos and Lacazette to change their attitude and/or adapt to the modern athletic game, we are finding ourselves living in an unrealistic utopia where ‘best self’ isn’t happening yet being believed. Our manager keeps picking a few or all of the players whose performances don’t honestly warrant the bench let alone the field.
I have a line up that suits all the players.
It gives us the athletic midfield we think we don’t have.
It involves players we want to keep, not ones we are hoping to sell.
It revolves around two players.
One who hardly plays and when he does, plays out of position… Joe Willock, and one who I think is at least the short term solution and the player who we are likely waving goodbye to…. Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Joe Willock may not remain at Arsenal. He was spoilt with the most starts of any Arsenal player in 19/20, then starved. If he leaves he will be the modern day Ramsey with less opportunity. A player that was clearly a box to box goal scoring threat in a 4-3-3, not a creative pressing attacking midfielder. Creating chances makes him look lost and is his weak point. He presses well but we don’t have a coordinated press up top anymore so why play him there. Secondly, beyond his goal threat arguably his best gift is his running with the ball from midfield. Not only is this is best gift, but Arsenal need a midfielder to break the lines and advance. He can’t do this playing ‘#10.’
Maitland-Niles is the player that shut down Mahrez, Traore, Salah and others in MOTM performances recently in a new yet unfamiliar position that he was taught to play. Taught to play….Hmmmmm.
Before you check it out consider the needs of the two areas that I see Willock and AMN occupying. Areas that we are struggling in. Combine that with the needs of the Premier League.
DM… Athleticism, quickness, speed, recovery pace, agility, strength, positional awareness, organizational skills, composure on the ball.
CM… The DM list + line breaking ability on the ball and with a pass, desire to turn and pass forward and goalscoring threat.
Those lists only include 3 out of 14 of the qualities that I believe that Xhaka and Ceballos are exhibiting.
The big change is AMN at defensive midfield, so let’s focus there. This was AMN almost 4 years ago playing DM away at Southampton at the age of 20.
Shouldn’t he potentially be even better now at 23?
If you don’t like my idea, I’m cool. I’ll admit that I don’t know if AMN can be at least a short term solution to our midfield, but only if you admit that you don’t know either. I can’t know it’s a good idea because I’ve not seen enough and you can’t know that it’s not because you haven’t seen enough either. What I do know is that it would put a spring in his step. It would feel comfortable to him. Our coach (who has improved many in less than a year) would be in his element teaching him the positional disciplines of DM.
Finally, it at the very least would free Willock and Partey to play their natural game. It would also replace the 3 out of 14 crew with two players that have at least 8 out of 14 and the potential to have 12+.
These two wouldn’t have to play every type of game. Xhaka and Ceballos may well be better for the low block as they have better defensive awareness and positioning. I’d be totally ok with playing Partey at DM and AMN at CM, essentially switching them, too.
I’d play Saka as a drifter so he could initially be the connector that we are crying out for. He’s the most willing we have to turn too which is the essential piece we are lacking.
This team would get upgrades in January and again in the summer but Arsenal need fixing now. I’m not waiting.
In conclusion, if you look at my line up and say it lacks experience in midfield, I say that you are probably right. I’d also say that I challenge you to change it by adding our more experienced players and make it better. If you can’t and we’ve proven in every game this season (bar one) that we are scrapping by at best, why risk losing players you will want to keep and play players you know you want to sell?
We are losing games handily with experienced players so why do we attach ourselves to those that are failing just because it makes us feel secure? We might be surprised and for as much as experience and leadership are important so is athleticism and progressive play.
If Willock continues to play as an attacking midfielder, I expect him to leave in the long term as it’s unlikely that he will get consistent minutes trying to do something that is against his nature.
If Ainsley Maitland-Niles has to leave then let him leave having proven that he wasn’t good enough at the position he played since he was 8 years old, because I’ll bet good money that someone will throw a custard pie in our faces, and it’ll probably be him.